Connect with us

Technology

Press play for Petflix: boom in gadgets for pandemic puppies as owners return to work | Pets

Voice Of EU

Published

on

Pet cameras and activity trackers are flying off the shelves. Demand for anti-chew sprays, automatic feeders and water fountains for pets has rocketed, and dog walkers and sitters are being inundated with inquiries.

As lockdown restrictions ease, dog owners are snapping up products and services that will enable them to monitor and care for their pets while they are out at work.

The recent boom in pet ownership means many “pandemic puppies” – pets who were acquired to provide companionship or family entertainment during lockdown – have rarely experienced being home alone, while older dogs have also become accustomed to having their owners around all the time.

“A lot of these dogs are going to have separation anxiety when their owners go back to work,” said Debs Webster, owner of Woof Squad, a dog-walking service in Cheshire that specialises in small to medium dogs. As well as spending six hours a day walking dogs herself, Webster says she has had to hire two new walkers to meet demand from new clients. “I’m going to take on another person next month. I think by the time everyone goes back to work, my client base will probably have doubled.”

Dogit Fresh & Clear Drinking Fountain
Water fountains, such as this one from PetTech, are popular. Photograph: pettech.co.uk

At Deansford Kennels, just outside Kidderminster, Robin Depper is also experiencing an unprecedented increase in demand for his services. Bookings for kennel boardings have increased tenfold since March, he says, but following the pandemic he is now more focused on providing “doggie daycare”. “We have been inundated with inquiries for daycare services since people have started going back to work. I’ve never seen anything like it in the 37 years I’ve run these kennels.”

At his paddocks in the countryside, dogs spend the day playing together and going for walks, so they “never feel lonely” without their owners. This kind of daycare is especially popular with new dog owners, he said, who want to be sure their dogs feel safe and “entertained” as they return to working outside the home.

Other owners are turning to subscription services that provide music and TV programmes designed to help dogs overcome anxiety, loneliness and boredom while they are home alone. Spotify and Amazon Prime have started offering playlists and TV shows made specifically for pets, while the streaming service RelaxMyDog has seen an 18% rise in subscribers over the past six weeks. Nicknamed “Petflix”’ by users, RelaxMyDog takes dogs stuck in front of the TV on “virtual walks”, with the camera often positioned at the height of the dog and a soundtrack that is meant to help them “chill”.

“Demand is certainly increasing as people prepare to go back to the office – especially among owners of ‘pandemic puppies’ who did not prepare well enough for the reality of pet ownership,” said founder Amman Ahmed.

Business is also booming at PetTech.co.uk. “Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen a 50% increase in demand for smart pet feeders, which are automatic feeders of dry food that people can control from an app,” said owner Michael Wainwright.

Other popular products include water fountains, which provide the pet with a constant flow of fresh water, and pet cameras with motion sensors, night vision and two-way audio. “If your dog or cat’s being naughty, you can tell them to stop doing what they’re doing,” he said. Some cameras also enable owners to remotely dispense a treat if the dog obeys their voice commands.

At the chain Pets at Home, there has been a “massive growth” in the number of dog owners buying pheromone calming solutions for their anxious pooches, says director Claire Gavin. “They mimic the mother dog’s pheromones and have a calming influence when the dog is left.”

Fitness trackers, which enable owners to check just how much exercise the dog walker has given their dog, are also proving popular, along with long-lasting natural chews that safely occupy a dog who is left alone in the house, and anti-chew sprays that deter bored dogs from gnawing the furniture.

But Gavin is concerned by the growth she is seeing in sales of puzzle toys, which dogs love because they dispense treats when the dog solves the puzzle. “Some of them have little bits and pieces that could prove a choking hazard.”

Jenna Kiddie, head of canine behaviour at Dogs Trust, was in favour of cameras that allow owners to monitor their dogs for signs of separation anxiety. “An owner able to see this can take action to help their dog. However, owners should be mindful that automatic treat dispensers and owner intercom technology could cause inadvertent reinforcement of undesirable behaviours.”

Source link

Technology

How to read: a guide to getting more out of the experience | Books

Voice Of EU

Published

on

Why read books, in this day and age? “Haven’t we all secretly sort of come to an agreement, in the last year or two or three, that novels belonged to the age of newspapers and are going the way of newspapers, only faster?” wrote Jonathan Franzen, tongue firmly in cheek, in a 2010 essay. The comment feels trenchant a decade later, in an era marked by a saturation of streaming platforms, short-form video, podcasts and screen adaptations of said podcasts.

The proportion of non-readers in Australia has grown in recent years: results of the 2021 National Reading Survey found that 25% of people reported not reading a single book in the previous year – up from 8% in a 2017 survey.

Any bibliophile can easily rattle off a list of reasons for reading. Books enlighten and challenge us, they transport us to different worlds, they reflect essential truths about the human condition.

“People who read well and read a lot learn more, pick up more general knowledge … and can then be better critical consumers of what they read,” says Prof Pamela Snow, co-director of the Science of Language and Reading lab at La Trobe University.

So, within our busy lives, how do we better find the time for books? How can we get more out of the reading experience?

Skim/deep

We commonly interact with texts in different modes. In skimming through an article, taking in a few lines – a headline and subheadings, for example – we might gain a general but shallow understanding of its meaning. We also scan texts for specific numbers, names, or ideas – a quantity in a recipe, say.

Then there’s deep reading, what the scholars Dr Maryanne Wolf and Dr Mirit Barzillai define as “the array of sophisticated processes that propel comprehension and that include inferential and deductive reasoning, analogical skills, critical analysis, reflection, and insight. The expert reader needs milliseconds to execute these processes; the young brain needs years to develop them.”

Reading on screens has turned us into adept text skimmers. An influential 2005 study that analysed how reading behaviour had changed over the previous decade – coinciding with the global rise of the internet – found that online reading was characterised by “more time spent on browsing and scanning, keyword spotting, [and] one-time reading … while less time is spent on in-depth reading, and concentrated reading”.

Wolf has advocated for the need to cultivate a “bi-literate” reading brain, one capable of both deep reading processes and the skim reading more commonly associated with screens.

“Readers must engage in an active construction of meaning, in which they grapple with the text and apply their earlier knowledge as they question, analyse, and probe,” she and Barzillai have suggested. One technique for in-depth reading of narrative texts is RIDA: to Read, Imagine the scene, Describe it to yourself, and Add more mental detail by noting powerful imagery or salient passages.

Woman reading textbooks in library
Our brains should ideally be ‘capable of both deep reading processes and the skim reading more commonly associated with screens’. Photograph: Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd/Getty Images

Physical books, rather than devices like smartphones, tend to support more focused reading, says Baron, though she says the choice of medium is ultimately a matter of personal preference.

Screens themselves are not inherently detrimental to our ability to focus, says the head of the visual and cognitive neuroscience laboratory at the University of Melbourne, Prof Trichur Vidyasagar.

“People often have the belief, particularly concerned parents, that if you spend too much time on screen devices your concentration may get poorer. That’s not necessarily true,” he says. “If used correctly and not at the cost of other useful activities, they can greatly benefit learning.”

The key is the internet’s boundless potential for distraction. “When you use the screen, there are so many hyperlinks, so many sites, stories, and rabbit holes to go into,” Vidyasagar says. The temptation to multitask – “an illusory myth,” he says – can be hard to resist. “If you think you’re multitasking, what you’re actually doing is switching between two tasks at a rapid rate, and your performance in both goes down.”

“When you read a [physical] book it’s quite different – you can’t get distracted as easily.”

Research in university students has found that comprehension is generally higher for print reading. “There is something about reading digitally that seemingly increases the speed at which students move through the text and this processing time translates into reduced comprehension,” one study found. “The findings are especially true when you’re talking about longer materials,” Baron says, adding as a caveat that research tends to focus on academic rather than leisure reading.

Results seem to differ slightly for dedicated e-reader devices. One study, in which participants read a 28-page mystery story by Elizabeth George either in print or on a Kindle, found no differences in most standard comprehension measures. The print readers, however, were better at reconstructing the plot and chronological aspects of the story – potentially because “the physical substrate of paper provides material placeholders” for events within the story.

Rediscovering joy and meaning

Dr Judith Seaboyer, formerly a senior lecturer in literary studies at the University of Queensland, who retired last May, recently went through a fiction dry spell. “There’s so much good stuff to listen to [on the radio], so much good journalism out there to read, and I was finding that I wasn’t reading novels any more.”

“As somebody … who’s done a PhD in contemporary literary fiction, and taught it for over 20 years – you think I’d know [reading books] is worth doing.”

What broke Seaboyer out of her slump was reading new work by an author she loves – Ali Smith’s Companion Piece. Synthesising ideas and making comparisons across multiple texts is also a known strategy for deepening reading comprehension, so some might find it helpful to dig into multiple books by the same author.

Seaboyer’s advice is to read with curiosity and to carefully consider an author’s choices, which can lead to a deeper understanding of language, characters and plot. “Jot things down, annotate your book, write things in the margin,” she says. “Some publishers are putting out reading guides now – that’s often quite useful.”

Nabokov believed that “One cannot read a book: one can only reread it”. For him, revisiting books – like the process of regarding a painting – meant the mind first “takes in the whole picture and then can enjoy its details”.

“You [might] remember that you really loved reading Austen,” Seaboyer says. “It’s interesting to be thinking as you read … now that I’m older and wiser, am I seeing any of this any differently than I did when I was 18?”

“There are ways to be kind to yourself, to allow yourself the opportunity not to understand something the first time through, or to say … maybe there’s a different book I should read first,” Baron says. “It’s like reading James Joyce: if you want to start with Ulysses, good luck. If you start with A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, you’ll have a better shot at working your way in.”

Copy of Ulysses by James Joyce
‘It’s like reading James Joyce: if you want to start with Ulysses, good luck.’ Photograph: Martin Argles/The Guardian

If reading solely for pleasure, abandoning books that are not bringing enjoyment could, in fact, increase reading time. Of frequent readers surveyed in 2021 – those who consumed at least one book a month – 54% reported not finishing a book if they disliked it. As a result, they “move[d] on more quickly to the next book for greater enjoyment … and have fewer and shorter gaps between books”.

For those wanting to read more – for relaxation or self-improvement – Baron suggests committing to short but regular periods of reading, similar to time set aside for exercise or meditation.

The speed question

Some people are naturally fast readers – celebrated academic Harold Bloom claimed to be able to read 1,000 pages an hour in his prime. Most adults, according to 2019 analysis, read English nonfiction silently at a rate of between 175 and 300 words a minute, and fiction at a rate of 200 to 320.

While speed reading techniques or apps may seem alluring for the time poor, they’re unlikely to work without compromising understanding.

“Fast readers are not necessarily better at reading comprehension,” Vidyasagar says.

There are no shortcuts to reading faster. Becoming a better reader requires persistence and “dealing with the frustration at not seeing overnight results”, Snow says. “It’s like any skill – learning a musical instrument, learning to drive a car.”

A 2016 review of the science of reading found that reading can be improved in the same way all other skills are developed: through practice. “The way to maintain high comprehension and get through text faster is to practise reading and to become a more skilled language user.”

“If two goals of reading might be to learn for the long haul, and to think – that may be part of enjoyment, that may be part of learning – then what’s the hurry?” Baron says. “Why are we feeling like the White Rabbit?”

For Seaboyer, reading a good book is akin to a meditative experience . The “wonderful, immersive process that is deep reading” reliably brings her pleasure. “Something else is picking you up, and moving your mind and body and soul into a different space so you can think about the world differently.”

Source link

Continue Reading

Technology

Is a lack of standards holding immersion cooling back? • The Register

Voice Of EU

Published

on

Comment Liquid and immersion cooling have undergone something of a renaissance in the datacenter in recent years as components have grown ever hotter.

This trend has only accelerated over the past few months as we’ve seen a fervor of innovation and development around everything from liquid-cooled servers and components for vendors that believe the only way to cool these systems long term is to drench them in a vat of refrigerants.

Liquid and immersion cooling are by no means new technologies. They’ve had a storied history in the high-performance computing space, in systems like HPE’s Apollo, Cray, and Lenovo’s Neptune to name just a handful.

A major factor driving the adoption of this tech in traditional datacenters is a combination of more powerful chips and a general desire to cut operating costs by curbing energy consumption.

One of the challenges, however, is many of these systems employ radically different form factors than are typical in air-cooled datacenters. Some systems only require modest changes to the existing rack infrastructure, while others ditch that convention entirely in favor of massive tubs into which servers are vertically slotted.

The ways these technologies are being implemented is a mixed bag to say the least.

Immersion cooling meets rack mount

This challenge was on full display this week at HPE Discover, where the IT goliath announced a collaboration with Intel and Iceotope to bring immersion-cooling tech to HPE’s enterprise-focused Proliant server line.

The systems can now be provisioned with Iceotope’s Ku:l immersion and liquid-cooling technology, via HPE’s channel partners with support provided by distributor Avnet Integrated. Iceotope’s designs meld elements of immersion cooling and closed-loop liquid cooling to enable this technology to be deployed in rack environments with minimal changes to the existing infrastructure.

Ice’s chassis-level immersion-cooling platform effectively uses the server’s case as a reservoir and then pumps coolant throughout to hotspots like the CPU, GPU, or memory. The company also offers a 3U conversion kit for adapting air-cooled servers to liquid cooling.

Both designs utilize a liquid-to-liquid heat exchanger toward the back of the chassis, where deionized water is pumped in and heat is removed from the system using an external dry cooler.

This is a stark departure from the approach used by rival immersion-cooling vendors, such as LiquidStack or Submer, which favor submerging multiple systems in a tub full of coolant — commonly a two-phase refrigerant or specialized oil.

While this approach has shown promise, and has even been deployed in Microsoft’s Azure datacenters, the unique form factors may require special consideration from building operators. Weight distribution is among operators’ primary concerns, Dell’Oro analyst Lucas Beran told The Register in an earlier interview.

Standardized reference designs in the works

The lack of a standardized form factor for deploying and implementing these technologies is one of several challenges Intel hopes to address with its $700 million Oregon liquid and immersion cooling lab.

Announced in late May, the 200,000-square-foot facility, located about 20 miles west of Portland at its Hillsboro campus in the US, will qualify, test, and demo its expansive datacenter portfolio using a variety of cooling tech. The chipmaker is also said to be working on an open reference design for an immersion-cooling system that’s being developed by Intel Taiwan.

Intel plans to bring other Taiwanese manufacturers into the fold before rolling out the reference design globally. Whether the x86 giant will be able to bring any consistency to the way immersion cooling will be deployed in datacenters going forward remains to be seen, however.

Even if Intel’s reference design never pans out, there are still other initiatives pursuing similar goals, including the Open Compute Project’s advanced cooling solutions sub project, launched in 2018.

It aims to establish an ecosystem of servers, storage, and networking gear built around common standards for direct contact, immersion, and other cooling tech.

In the meantime, the industry will carry on chilling the best ways it can. ®

Source link

Continue Reading

Technology

Building a start-up? You need to think about your platform foundations

Voice Of EU

Published

on

Scaling tech companies may be limiting themselves if they don’t focus on their underlying cloud platform, writes Terry Brown, associate director of engineering at Healx.

You’ve built your prototype, you’ve proven product market fit, the beta is out and there’s some buzz. What next?

Many start-ups will continue to add more and more features to attract new customers, but they are often building on a foundation that was put together rapidly to achieve their early purpose and may not be a fit for long-term scale, efficiency and operability.

Heed the lessons learned by others. CB Insights recently conducted post-mortems into more than 110 failed start-ups and landed on the top 12 reasons why they folded. They run the gamut, from running out of capital (38pc of victims) to burnout and failing to pivot. And while all 12 reasons are different, I can’t help but see a common thread running through them: rushing.

How could you not? You’ve got an amazing, original idea, and you need to bring it to market quickly. Rushing is ingrained in start-up culture.

But there is an alternative – one that even in 2022 too few start-ups consider: investing early in the underlying cloud platform.

More speed, more security, less haste

Many software start-ups today are operating in the cloud, and without early focus on the foundational and enabling aspects, they can easily be afflicted with security holes and IP breaches.

Innovation can also start to stifle because of early compromises made to achieve time-to-market over quality. It is at this stage that start-ups should take a solid focus on their cloud platform as an enabling device to solve some of these common pitfalls.

Shifting the mindset at this critical stage and focusing on platforms as a product enables start-ups to get the underlying building blocks of a cloud platform in place. This can generate huge economies of scale, as well as commoditising and automating core concerns such as security and compliance, delivery pipeline and improving developer experience.

‘Without this approach, you are leading your business down a path where mounting technical and architectural debt are likely to cause you pain when you least need it’

If you take one thing away from reading this article, please make it this: all software companies from the day they are founded need to be thinking about the platform, the underlying cloud services and architecture they are building on, how they operate at pace, with automation, with guard rails, and with effective delivery pipelines.

They also need to invest in developer experience – there is no good reason why a developer shouldn’t be able to go from idea to safely productionised pipeline in under 60 minutes. If your underlying platform doesn’t allow for that, you are hampering innovation.

Yes, often your chief priority will be delivering a working prototype to investors, even if put together with masking tape, egg cartons and all-night code sprints. But that should never be your only focus, no matter how close you are to that Series A pitch meeting.

If you invest appropriately in your platform and treat it as any other product, there is no reason why any of the above shouldn’t be possible while still chasing that market share and hockey stick slope that will see you funded.

The terrible irony is that without this approach, you are leading your business down a path where mounting technical and architectural debt are likely to cause you pain when you least need it. It says a lot that most of the more disruptive and common problems in software development arise from underinvestment in your platform.

Shift Left your thinking – and hiring

So many start-ups focus on product market fit, and in that compromise neglect to ask themselves crucial questions. What processes can be automated to save time for the precious staff we haven’t hired yet but soon will? What is painful in getting value to your customers? What are our go-to-market software risks that we are delaying addressing?

If you answer these ASAP, you are moving quality earlier into product thinking. This is the essence of Shift Left, a practice in the development world that pushes many of the aspects of quality such as testing, security and compliance earlier into the pipeline, where cost of identification and remediation are lower than if issues made it out to customers.

Shifting your thinking left to bring elements like security and testing into your pipelines automatically also requires a rethink in your hiring strategy, however. As you grow, a dedicated platform team will prove invaluable, and empower your software engineers to operate safely at scale and pace.

Another key benefit of focusing on your platform with a dedicated team is repeatability – and the efficiency that comes with it. You’re gaining a single, consolidated approach of how to scale up the whole operation, rather than individual teams solving the same challenges multiple times across the company.

The platform team’s role is pivotal in any tech start-up scaling quickly, and it becomes even more important in larger organisations with more people and more siloed teams.

This need will only grow alongside your business

Let’s take an example of how this works.

At Healx, we use artificial intelligence to discover new treatments for rare diseases. As we expand, our key ambition is to find more treatments for more conditions. But how do you go from looking at one condition at a time to 200? You can’t just scale up staff exponentially, because that’s incredibly expensive.

What if one of those human-intensive steps doesn’t require human intervention but can be automated? What if there is a wait time between steps because there is no effective pathway to sequence workflows so it requires someone to trigger a next step? What if validation of a step takes many hours, but ultimately follows the same process each time and could be automated?

This is where an effective platform team can work with key people to optimise and improve these elements to reduce human toil, increase automation and improve flow.

Time and again, we see excellent ideas and talented people fail because what should be critical inception and development stages are compromised by delivery date pressures and quality compromises that often dismiss the future and that are often self-imposed.

Investing in your platform as early as possible may feel like a premature optimisation, but you’ll be grateful when you find yourself able to keep scaling and operating effectively.

We have the tools and the know-how to make that commonplace in 2022. Let’s do so.

By Terry Brown

Terry Brown is associate director of engineering a Healx, a UK start-up working on AI-powered treatments for rare diseases.

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.

Source link

Continue Reading

Trending

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates 
directly on your inbox.

You have Successfully Subscribed!